ARLINGTON – If you happen to stop by the principal’s office at Arlington High School, a colorful flyer hangs on the door highlighting an elite group of students lending their voice for teens in community matters.
They’re the seven-strong Arlington Youth Council, students who volunteered to serve on the committee that advises the Mayor and City Council on issues important to young people locally.
If it were up to Principal Duane Fish, an advisor to the group, the students’ photos and profiles would fill up more space on his door because the flyer itself has been a conversation starter to learn more.
“People have to know who you are and what you do if you’re going to be effective,” Fish said at their monthly meeting at City Hall. “People don’t know who you are and what you do unless you tell them.”
By name, the youth council is Grace Williams, who chairs the group; Alec Villa, vice chairman; Olivia Weaver, secretary; Jaea Davidson, Grace Saenz, Enija Reed and Victoria Wilde.
Somewhere between homework, band obligations, softball, performing in musicals, after-school jobs, family and other commitments, the students carved a little more time out of their busy schedules to speak on behalf of their peers.
Outside of their other involvement, do other high schoolers know about the youth council?
“The short answer is no,” Williams said. “I would love students to come up to any one of us and say, ‘I’ve been noticing this; what can we do to change it?’”
The members hope to raise their profile and engage more with the community.
A big opportunity will come when they host a booth and help organize the upcoming “Empowering Parents” forum and health resource fair at 5:30 p.m. April 30 in AHS’s Byrnes Performing Arts Center, 18825 Crown Ridge Blvd.
Hosted by the Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition to empower parents with resources and expert advice on the pitfalls of drug and alcohol abuse and vaping, the event has twice been rescheduled due to snow.
Youth council members plan to hit the streets to help promote the forum and get more parents to attend. They will also be in the forum asking panelists questions that the parents themselves might not be comfortable doing out of concern that audience members will assume its their own child they’re talking about.
Villa said the youth council’s goal is to have parents have the ability to ask questions of them, the students. “That’s what we really wanted, that’s a big reason why we’re part of this.”
Fish said, “The youth council did a nice job of working with the health district and with ADAC, and realizing we’re all kind of putting our hands on this issue and trying to do something.”
The youth council has achieved plenty since its inception two years ago.
They helped outfit the then new teen center at the Arlington Boys & Girls Club, hosted a street art competition under the theme “Aspire to Inspire,” collaborated with the Darrington Youth Council, and designed their own logo, motto and t-shirts they will wear at the forum.
Sarah Lopez, the city’s staff advisor to the group who attends meetings along with the mayor, said the youth council is a great venue for creating a connection between youth and City Hall.
“One of the benefits to coming to youth council is the kids learning about city government and how to run a city meeting,” she said, adding that after college or pursuing careers, they may come back and get involved in the community where they were raised. “It’s for their benefit as well as for the community’s to learn how to be a member.”
The students also learn it isn’t easy to make a lot of things happen in one school year.
Next, youth council members hope to approach the principals and leadership teachers at Post and Haller middle schools for a meet and greet with eighth-graders to share what they have gotten out of being committee members.
The group also discussed the idea of hosting a small-scale youth leadership summit.
“We want teens in our community to know who the Youth Council is and what we do,” Williams said.
Grace Saenz, the council’s only freshman, said what she has enjoyed most about the youth council is the friendships she has made.
Members commit to serve one year on the council; however, they can apply for a second term, like Villa and Williams.
The council meets most months the second Thursday at 5:30 p.m. The youth council’s next meeting is April 18.